NHL Stanley Cup playoffs concern-o-meter for the 8 teams trailing after Game 1

With Game 1 in the books across the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, eight teams are officially three games closer to elimination. 

Okay, that’s a dramatic way of putting it. Losing Game 1 isn’t a death sentence. Look back to last year: the Panthers, Rangers, and Oilers all lost their opening game of the postseason and still advanced to Round 2. But anytime the stakes are this high, it’s worth considering what levels, if any, of concern there should be after a loss. 

This year’s Game 1s have brought some intrigue. Two games have required overtime (with one going to double), there have been controversial hits and a suspension is likely incoming. What’s also noteworthy is that the higher seed has lost six out of eight times so far.

So where should there be concern?

That’s what we’re here to measure after two days of postseason chaos.

Edmonton Oilers

Concern-o-meter: 1/10  

The Oilers are in familiar territory, down 1-0 to the underdog Kings to open the postseason. Los Angeles is a much better team than they were last year, especially after their deadline moves, and they’re getting healthier. Edmonton probably could have wanted to capitalize while their opponent is short-handed, now that Gabriel Vilardi is coming back in Game 2. But they didn’t, it’s not the end of the world. 

If there were any problems, it was the Oilers’ play in the third period. They just have to keep the pressure on with a lead a bit better and try not to get passive, stay disciplined, and make the right deployment decisions. 

The one edge that the Oilers really had in Game 1 and won’t when the series shifts to Los Angeles is the matchup game. But Connor McDavid spent most of his time against Phillip Danault and won that battle handily, with a 71.6 percent expected goals rate in their head-to-head five-on-five minutes. Leon Draisaitl saw a heavy dose of Anze Kopitar and did fine, too. If Edmonton can keep that up and take the win in Game 2, they should be able to shrug off the Game 1 loss. 

Concern-o-meter: 2/10

This isn’t to shortchange the Kraken. This is legitimately a fascinating series that’s going to test Colorado’s star power against Seattle’s depth. But the Avalanche shouldn’t panic just yet because they lost Game 1, even though it was on home ice. 

The worry should be that depth players in Seattle were able to contain some of Colorado’s star power. Yanni Gourde, someone who also Knows What It Takes, put in the work to limit Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen as much as possible. The worry could also be that there are some defensive depth concerns at the bottom of the blue line. Or that there’s a motivated goalie with a revenge element in Philipp Grubauer, who saved 2.52 goals above expected. Or that this team looked sloppy through 40 minutes of play. But Colorado started to battle back in the third, and that’s something they can try to carry into Game 2 — a response in the next meeting is essential. 

If any team knows how to adapt and adjust, it’s the Avalanche. Sure, this team is short-handed after Gabriel Landeskog didn’t return and that should have been the key to elevating their 2C situation. But simultaneously keep the red flags down for now, and don’t underestimate what a disruptor like Seattle can do. 

Florida Panthers

Concern-o-meter: 2/10

If Florida couldn’t manage while this team’s without a pivotal part of their lineup in Patrice Bergeron, the chances are slim they’ll muster wins when he’s back in the fold. It doesn’t help Florida that Alex Lyon, whose heroics helped them get here and continued early in the game against some lateral passing, started to fade as the game progressed. Aleksander Barkov wasn’t noticeable enough, neither was Carter Verhaeghe. The power play doesn’t look strong enough to go up against the Bruins’ penalty kill. 

The Panthers were dished the toughest matchup of Round 1 — a stacked Bruins squad that set records with their greatness. Realistically, anyone in this matchup should be concerned. Boston is that good. But it also buys a team, like Florida who should be lucky to be here after their first half of the season, some leeway. The concern-o-meter broke when they fell into this matchup with their seeding, so now it’s just a matter of not getting completely squashed. 

Concern-o-meter: 3/10

Early in the season, many counted the Devils out. So anything they did would have exceeded expectations. Then they heated up and started to make noise in the league. That built up expectations for the postseason that they’re now facing. 

The Rangers kicked up their defensive desperation to take away scoring opportunities from the Devils, and that’s a key reason why they’re up 1-0 in the series. The Devils shouldn’t panic just yet — that’s what will crush their postseason chances. This inexperienced group has to take a breath and try to play to their strengths in Game 2. Where the concern-o-meter rises is with the power play. The Devils had four advantages, and couldn’t manage a single shot on goal. Scoring at even strength has to be the priority because a team can’t bank on even getting power plays in the first place. But for an inexperienced group like this, who is trying to thrive with their rush-based style, not scoring at the advantage can rock their confidence which can trickle into five-on-five play. 

New York Islanders 

Concern-o-meter: 4/10

Like the Panthers and other wild-card teams, the Islanders are lucky to even be in the playoffs. So if they were to lose in Round 1, no one would think of their postseason as a complete failure. They’re the underdogs for a reason. But there should be concern about how little offense the team managed to create. The one goal the Islanders scored was pretty lucky, and they’re going to need more than luck to get past both the Hurricanes’ defense and goaltenders. 

At five-on-five, the Islanders were unsurprisingly the worse team in terms of shot generation. The Corsi Canes are known for that and the Islanders tend to go for quality over quantity — but they fell short there too with only 37 percent of the expected goals share. That has to change if this team is going to score, especially since they can’t rely on the power play, either; their play on the advantage is terrible, and the Hurricanes are one of the best short-handed. 

Concern-o-meter: 4/10

If you take out the Joe Pavelski injury, the Stars probably sit around a one or two. It was a close game that required double overtime. Despite the final result, Dallas looked like the better team for stretches offensively. Key saves and standout defensive plays are major reasons why they didn’t get the win. So the one and only concern would be that this team needs to finish their chances, sure. 

Now add in the Pavelski injury. 

His status for the playoffs moving forward isn’t known just yet, but the severity of the injury was clear in the moment. Pavelski’s a key cog in a very successful top line, but his absence won’t just test that top trio but each combination below it because someone is going to have to move up and shake up the other lines. It may slot players out of their depths, and create some problems for a team that should have the offensive edge in this series. 

Concern-o-meter: 5/10

Oh, Toronto. 

It’s never boring. 

Where to begin? There’s the fact that this team made so many changes at the deadline, and sometimes having too many options isn’t actually a good thing. There’s having versatility and there’s over-thinking and galaxy-braining decisions because there are too many different players to contemplate. 

There’s the shaky net minding. Ilya Samsonov doesn’t have much playoff experience at the NHL level; before this year, just eight games where his collective goals saved above expected adds up to a minus-0.67. That’s a small sample that shouldn’t define him, especially after he had such a great regular season. But he didn’t look super sharp in net, and the options are thin behind him. If that continues, it could be a problem for Toronto. 

And there’s the potential Michael Bunting suspension, after an undisciplined and unnecessary check to the head of Erik Cernak. That’ll take a top-sixer out of the mix for a team who is already trailing. 

The Lightning may have stumbled their way into the playoffs, but this is still the Tampa Bay. And it’s the Maple Leafs, a team who sometimes can’t get out of their own way. This is a less-than-ideal start for Toronto, and the pressure is on to avoid a different fate from last year. 

Concern-o-meter: 6/10

Maybe the poorest Game 1 showing of all goes to Vegas. This wasn’t just Connor Hellebuyck stealing a game — he was great, but he wasn’t even tested late in the game when it mattered most for the home team. Vegas had only 16 percent of the five-on-five expected goals share in the third, and generated just two shots on goal in all situations. 

Jack Eichel struggled in his first-ever NHL playoff game. Mark Stone wasn’t at his best either; as long as that’s rust, and not a sign that he wasn’t truly ready for this return, it’s not too concerning just yet. But Jack Eichel struggled in his first NHL playoff game. Only four players broke even in expected goals. The goaltending wasn’t amazing, either. 

If any team should be feeling the pressure, besides the Leafs, it’s Vegas considering what management did to build this squad —from the assets that were flipped to bring in star players, to the players who had to be dumped off for nothing to balance the books. This team’s window is now, and that’s even more true after missing the playoffs last year.

A lopsided loss from the number one in the West, on home ice, to the eight seed, brings the concern-o-meter to its highest level today. But the same is true for Vegas that applies to every other team mentioned here: it’s only one game and there’s only so much to draw from it. The cliches are true; it’s a game of inches, and the margins are so slim at this level. With just one game in the books, all of this can be erased with a win to balance a series.

Data via Evolving-Hockey, HockeyViz, and NaturalStatTrick. This story relies on shot-based metrics; here is a primer on these numbers.

(Photo of Mark Stone: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)